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Digital Technology, Reality, and Relationships

Digital Technology, Reality, and RelationshipsWith all of the incredible recent advances in digital technology, the line between fantasy and reality has grown somewhat blurry. For instance, when we see a model on the cover of a magazine, it’ a safe bet she’s not as perfect in real life as she appears in print. With reality TV, it’s an equally safe bet that the drama unfolding onscreen is not nearly as unscripted as the producers would like us to believe. Etc. These days our music (digitally enhanced voices, lip-synching performances), our visual entertainment (reality TV, cinematic special effects), our sports heroes (steroid-driven performances), and even our love lives are routinely enhanced through various technologies.

Our love lives, too? Yes indeed.

Today it is perfectly possible (and acceptable) to meet someone on a dating site or through an “adult friend finder” smartphone app, to chat with that person at any hour of the day, to go on dates, to have sex, and to fall in love – all without ever being in the same room. In fact, you don’t even need to be on the same continent, as the entire interaction can take place digitally. You can even brag about it online by posting on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

Unfortunately, digital technology is easily manipulated. For starters, on dating sites and hookup apps lots of people think it’s OK to shave a few years and a few pounds off their real stats. The advent of video-chat makes it harder than it used to be to fudge beyond the bounds of reality, as you can no longer get away with a picture of yourself from twenty years ago, or, even worse, a picture of your hot neighbor instead of yourself. But it’s still very easy to lie about things like your education, your financial wellbeing, your relationship status, and what you are seeking from another person. As such, the primary issue that a lot of people who are seeking romance via digital technology have to contend with is discerning what’s real and what’s not.

Of course, if the whole interaction takes place digitally, does reality even matter?

Interestingly, the answer to the above question often depends on one’s age. Digital natives (younger people who’ve never known life without the Internet) are usually much less concerned than their parents and grandparents about the blurring line between online fantasy and real-world truth. In fact, many younger people seem to view well-done illusion and in-the-flesh reality as two sides of the same coin. Because of this, for younger people the language and imagery shared via digital technology can feel every bit as real and meaningful as an in-person interaction. The fact that older people don’t understand this doesn’t make it any less true.

Like it or not, digital technology and online interactions are here to stay. Some commentators worry that young people who come of age in this digital dating world, if and when they decide they want a real-world relationship, will lack the social skills to make that happen. However, it seems likely that most young people will successfully adapt to digital technology, just as older generations successfully adapted to analog technology. In other words, telephones, radios, and television were not the end of mankind as we know it, and video games, smartphones, and social media won’t be either. As history repeatedly tells us, those who learn how to effectively utilize new technologies in healthy ways tend to flourish, find romantic partners, form pair bonds, build communities, and safely reproduce our species, while those who struggle to integrate new technologies in productive, healthy ways tend to find bonding and reproducing more difficult. In short, the people who readily adapt to our increasingly digital world will thrive, breed, succeed, and carry-on, and those who don’t, won’t.

For more on this topic, check out the book Closer Together, Further Apart by Elements Behavioral Health’s clinical director, Robert Weiss.

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